With an open mind and two sides of the story, you’re bound to learn something new.
Welcome to the zoo! This is a blog where both the Republican and Democratic viewpoints are represented. The blog is not meant to sway you either way necessarily, just to present both sides of the story. You may not agree with the whole article, but hey, you’re likely to agree with half! The topic this week: police officer body cameras
The job of the police force is to keep Americans safe. Most officers are upstanding members of our community. However, there unfortunately have been many recent cases of police officers using unnecessary force, leading to civilian deaths. Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. These are just a few examples of situations in which police officers abused their powers, creating incidents that never should have happened.
Requiring police to wear body cameras will mitigate the likelihood of incidents concerning police brutality. A study conducted by the Chief of the Rialto California Police Department tested whether body cameras would lessen the negative use of force by police officers on civilians. Of the 988 shifts examined, officers wore body cameras during 489 shifts. Comparing the number of use-of-force incidents and complaints against the police, the Rialto study found that the use of force by police officers decreased significantly when officers wore cameras during their shifts. The number of complaints and incidents decreased by 88 percent from the previous year.
A 2013 study at the University of Cambridge found that police who wear body cameras are less likely to use violence and escalate a situation. Similarly, the respondents were less aggressive toward the police officers that wore cameras. During their research, the scholars determined that when police were held accountable, they conducted themselves more appropriately than when their actions were not recorded on camera.
Body cameras provide the opportunity for an objective, unbiased witness account. The camera discourages police misconduct, but also protects officers from civil complaints that are either unfounded or untrue. If the camera is on during an incident, it is easier to determine what happened. I understand the argument that claims that cameras inherently reveal a level of distrust in the police force. If the police are in the right, the cameras should not be an issue. The camera is located on the police officer’s body, and therefore when reviewing the tape, we will see the altercation from the police officer’s viewpoint.
The ACLU endorses the use of body cameras, emphasizing that they could reduce the number of incidents of racial discrimination and police brutality that have plagued our society. Why wouldn’t we want to implement a policy that will save lives?
In theory police officer body cameras are a good idea as video footage can help both officers and citizens with liability issues. However, I do not believe that the body cameras are an effectual policy. Camera usage is impractical and costly, has unforeseen negative effects, and could cause police intimidation.
The cameras are not practical. The cost is significant; money has to be shoveled into the camera itself, ongoing maintenance, storage and maintenance of footage, and cataloging and retrieving footage. And the video footage recorded is not necessarily complete. It is unreasonable to have the cameras constantly recording, so it must be turned on and off by the officer according to guidelines. There are also some areas that cannot be recorded according to law; for example, in Pennsylvania, recording in a civilian’s home is not completely legal. Not only are the interactions recoded limited, but that incomplete scattering of video evidence is subject to different interpretations.
A recent study by Cambridge University looked at reported assaults of eight different police units, making it the largest study of its kind so far. The study suggested that the cameras actually have an unexpected negative consequence: an upsurge of civilian on officer assaults. Body cameras were correlated with an increase in citizen assaults on officers, while police assaults on citizens remained the same. This could be because police officers felt more confident about reporting assaults, or that camera footage makes officers less assertive and therefore more vulnerable to assault.
A popular theory is that the murder rate in Baltimore, a city that recently implemented an $11.6 million body camera initiative, is increasing because police officers know they will not get public support. The officers are refusing to go into dangerous situations, fearing that the public will misconstrue their actions, whether they be necessary, a mistake, a choice, etc., resulting in more hatred directed toward the police.
The body cameras are a good idea in principle, however they are not an effectual policy. If we Americans support our police- which I hope we all do because they risk their lives every day for our safety- then we need to come up with a more reasonable method to evaluate them while not increasing their risk or impeding their work.